Jyotirao Phule

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Jyotiba Phule
Born(1827-04-11)11 April 1827
Died28 November 1890(1890-11-28) (aged 63)
Pune, British India (present Maharashtra, India)
Other namesMahatma Phule / Jyotiba Phule/ Jyotiba Phule / Jyotirao Phule
Spouse(s)Savitribai Phule
Era19th century
Main interests
Ethics, humanism, Education, Social Reformation

Jyotirao Govindrao Phule (11 April 1827 – 28 November 1890) was an Indian social activist, thinker, anti-caste social reformer and writer from Maharashtra. His work extended to many fields, including eradication of untouchability and the caste system, and women's emancipation. He is mostly known for his efforts in educating women and lower caste people. He and his wife, Savitribai Phule, were pioneers of women education in India. Phule started his first school for girls in 1848 in Pune at Tatyasaheb Bhide's residence or Bhidewada.[1] On 24 September 1873, he, along with his followers, formed the Satyashodhak Samaj (Society of TruthSeekers) to attain equal rights for people from lower castes. People from all religions and castes could become a part of this association which worked for the upliftment of the oppressed classes. Phule is regarded as an important figure in the social reform movement in Maharashtra.

Early life[edit]

Phule was born in 11 April 1827 into a family that belonged to the Mali caste, traditionally occupied as gardeners, vegetable vendors, and florists.[2] The original surname of the family had been Gorhe and had its origins in the village of Katgun, in present-day Satara District, Maharashtra. Phule's great-grandfather worked as a chaugula, a lowly village servant, in Katgun but moved to Khanwadi in Pune district. He prospered there but his only son, Shetiba, who was of poor intelligence, subsequently squandered what had been gained. Shetiba moved to Poona with his family, including three boys, in search of some form of income. The boys were taken under the wing of a florist who taught them the secrets of the trade. Their proficiency in growing and arranging became well known and they adopted the name of Phule (flower-man) in place of Gorhe.[3] Their fulfillment of commissions from the Peshwa, Baji Rao II, for flower mattresses and other goods for the rituals and ceremonies of the royal court so impressed him that he granted them 35 acres (14 ha) of land on the basis of the inam system, whereby no tax would be payable upon it.[2] The oldest brother machinated to take sole control of the property, leaving the younger two siblings, Jotirao Phule's father, Govindrao, to continue farming and also flower-selling.[3]

Govindrao married Chimnabai and had two sons, of whom Jyotirao was the younger. Chimnabai died before he was aged one.[3] The Mali community did not make room for much by education, and after attending primary school to learn the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, Jyotirao was withdrawn from school. He joined the menfolk of his family at work, both in the shop and the farm. However, a Christian convert from the same Mali caste as Phule recognised his intelligence and persuaded Phule's father to allow Phule to attend the local Scottish Mission High School.[4][5][a] Phule completed his English schooling in 1847. As was customary, he was married young, at the age of 13, to a girl of his own community, chosen by his father.[7]

The turning point in his life was in 1848, when he attended the wedding of a Brahmin friend. Phule participated in the customary marriage procession, but was later rebuked and insulted by his friend's parents for doing that. They told him that he being from a lower caste should have had the sense to keep away from that ceremony. This incident profoundly affected Phule on the injustice of the caste system.[8]

Jotirao Phule's birthdate was not known till very recent. But Marathi scholar Hari Narke found a biography written by Mahadhat Babaji Pansare Patil in 1891 titled "Mahatma Phule Yanche Amar Jivan" that mentioned his birth date as 11 April 1827. This small biography was published at the hands of Savitribai Phule in 1891. Narke lobbied with the Maharashtra government to acknowledge this date as the official birth date of Jotirao Phule and his efforts were successful.[9]

Social activism[edit]

Phule's social activism included many fields including eradication of untouchability and the caste system, education of women and the dalits, and welfare of downtrodden women.


Mahatma Phule Wada, Pune. This is the place where Mahatma Jyotirao Phule stayed with his wife Savitribai Phule for a certain period in his life. It was built in around 1852.

In 1848, aged 21, Phule visited the first girls' school in Ahmadnagar, run by Christian missionaries. It was also in 1848 that he read Thomas Paine's book Rights of Man and developed a keen sense of social justice. He realized that lower castes and women were at a disadvantage in Indian society, and also that education of these sections was vital to their emancipation.[10]To this end and in the same year, Phule first taught reading and writing to his wife, Savitribai, and then the couple started the first indigenously-run school for girls in Pune.[11][b]In his book Gulamgiri, Phule says that the first school was for Brahmin and upper caste girls, however Phule's biographer says it was for low caste girls.[12] The conservative upper caste society of Pune didn't approve his work. But many Indians and Europeans helped him generously.Conservatives in Pune also forced his own family and community to ostracize them.During this period, their friend Usman Sheikh and his sister Fatima Sheikh provided them with roof over their heads.They also helped to start the school in their premises.[13] Later, the Phules started schools for children from the then untouchable castes such as Mahar and Mang.[14] In 1852, there were three Phule schools in operation 273 girls were pursuing education in these school but by 1858 they had all closed. Eleanor Zelliot blames the closure on private European donations drying up due to the Indian Mutiny of 1857, withdrawal of government support, and Jyotirao resigning from the school management committee because of disagreement regarding the curriculum.[15]

Women's welfare[edit]

He championed widow remarriage and started a home for high caste pregnant widows to give birth in a safe and secure place in 1863.[16] His orphanage was established in an attempt to reduce the rate of infanticide.[17]

The Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee unveiled the statue of Mahatma Jyotirao Phule at Parliament House in New Delhi on December 3, 2003.

In 1863, Pune witnessed a horrific incident. A Brahmin widow named Kashibai got pregnant and her attempts at abortion didn’t succeed. She killed the baby after giving it birth and threw it in a well, but her act came to light. She had to face punishment and was sentenced to jail. This incident greatly upset Phule and hence, along with his longtime friend Sadashiv Ballal Govande and Savitribai, he started an infanticide prevention centre. Pamphlets were stuck around Pune advertising the centre in the following words: “Widows, come here and deliver your baby safely and secretly. It is up to your discretion whether you want to keep the baby in the centre or take it with you. This orphanage will take care of the children [left behind].” The Phule couple ran the infanticide prevention centre till the mid-1880s.[17]

Phule tried to eliminate the stigma of social untouchability surrounding the lower castes by opening his house and the use of his water-well to the members of the lower castes.[18]

Views on religion and caste[edit]

Phule recast the prevailing Aryan invasion theory of history, proposing that the Aryan conquerors of India, whom the theory's proponents considered to be racially superior, were in fact barbaric suppressors of the indigenous people. He believed that they had instituted the caste system as a framework for subjugation and social division that ensured the pre-eminence of their Brahmin successors. He saw the subsequent Muslim conquests of the Indian subcontinent as more of the same sort of thing, being a repressive alien regime, but took heart in the arrival of the British, whom he considered to be relatively enlightened and not supportive of the varnashramadharma system instigated and then perpetuated by those previous invaders.[19][c] In his book, Gulamgiri, he thanked Christian missionaries and the British colonists for making the lower castes realise that they are worthy of all human rights.[21] The book, whose title transliterates as slavery and which concerned women, caste and reform, was dedicated to the people in the US who were working to end slavery.[22]

Phule saw Rama, the hero of the Indian epic Ramayana, as a symbol of oppression stemming from the Aryan conquest.[23][24] His critique of the caste system began with an attack on the Vedas, the most fundamental texts of upper-caste Hindus.[25] He considered them to be a form of false consciousness.[26]

He is credited with introducing the Marathi word dalit (broken, crushed) as a descriptor for those people who were outside the traditional varna system. The terminology was later popularised in the 1970s by the Dalit Panthers.[27]

At an education commission hearing in 1884, Phule called for help in providing education for lower castes. To implement it, he advocated making primary education compulsory in villages. He also asked for special incentives to get more lower-caste people in high schools and colleges.[28]

Satyashodhak Samaj[edit]

On 24 September 1873, Phule formed Satyashodhak Samaj to focus on rights of depressed groups such women, the Shudra, and the Dalit.[16][29][30] Through this the samaj he opposed idolatry and denounced the caste system. Satyashodhak Samaj campaigned for the spread of rational thinking and rejected the need for priests.

Phule established Satyashodhak Samaj with the ideals of human well-being, happiness, unity, equality, and easy religious principles and rituals.[30] A Pune-based newspaper, Deenbandhu, provided the voice for the views of the Samaj.[31]

The membership of the samaj included Muslims, Brahmans and government officials. Phule's own Mali caste provided the leading members and financial supporters for the organization.[29]


Statues of Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule, at Aurangabad in Maharashtra

Apart from his role as a social activist, Phule was a businessman too. In 1882 he styled himself as a merchant, cultivator and municipal contractor.[32] He owned 60 acres (24 ha) of farmland at Manjri, near Pune.[33] For period of time, he worked as a contractor for the government and supplied building materials required for the construction of a dam on the Mula-Mutha river near Pune in the 1870s.[34] He also received contracts to provide labour for the construction of the Katraj Tunnel and the Yerawda Jail near Pune.[35] One of Phule's businesses, established in 1863, was to supply metal-casting equipment.[16]

Phule was appointed commissioner (municipal council member) to the then Poona municipality in 1876 and served in this unelected position until 1883.[36]

Published works[edit]

Mahatma Phule on a 1977 stamp of India

Phule's akhandas were organically linked to the abhangs of Marathi Varkari saint Tukaram.[37] Among his notable published works are:

  • Tritiya Ratna, 1855
  • Brahmananche Kasab,1869
  • Powada : Chatrapati Shivajiraje Bhosle Yancha, [English: Life Of Shivaji, In Poetical Metre], June 1869
  • Powada: Vidyakhatyatil Brahman Pantoji, June 1869
  • Manav Mahammand (Muhammad) (Abhang)
  • Gulamgiri, 1873
  • Shetkarayacha Aasud (Cultivator's Whipcord), July 1881
  • Satsar Ank 1, June 1885
  • Satsar Ank 2 June 1885
  • Ishara, October 1885
  • Gramjoshya sambhandi jahir kabhar, (1886)
  • Satyashodhak Samajokt Mangalashtakasah Sarva Puja-vidhi, 1887
  • Sarvajanik Satya Dharma Poostak, April 1889
  • Sarvajanic Satya Dharmapustak, 1891
  • Akhandadi Kavyarachana
  • Asprashyanchi Kaifiyat


A statue of Jyotiba Phule in the town of Karad, Satara district

According to Dhananjay Keer, Phule was bestowed with the title of Mahatma on 11 May 1888 by another social reformer from Bombay, Vithalrao Krishnaji Vandekar.[38]

An early biography of Phule was the Marathi-language Mahatma Jotirao Phule Yanche Charitra (P. S. Patil, Chikali: 1927), which has to be treated with caution because its author was an activist.[39] Two others are Mahatma Phule. Caritra Va Kriya (Mahatma Phule. Life and Work) (A. K. Ghorpade, Poona: 1953), which is also in Marathi, and Mahatma Jyotibha Phule: Father of Our Social Revolution (Dhananjay Keer, Bombay: 1974). Unpublished material relating to him is held by the Bombay State Committee on the History of the Freedom Movement.[40]

Phule inspired B. R. Ambedkar, the first minister of law of India and the architect of the Indian Constitution. Ambedkar had acknowledged Phule as one of his three gurus or masters.[41][42][43]

There are many structures and places commemorating Phule. These include:

See also[edit]



  1. ^ The Scottish Mission school was operated by the Free Church of Scotland and educated pupils from a wide range of castes.[6]
  2. ^ The American missionary Cynthia Farrar had started a girl's school in Bombay in In 1847, the Students' literary and scientific society started the Kamalabai high school for girls in the Girgaon neighborhood of Bombay. The school is still operational in 2016. Peary Charan Sarkar started a school for girls called Kalikrishna Girls' High School in the Bengali town of Barasat in 1847. The Parsi community Mumbai had also established a school for girls in 1847)
  3. ^ Varnashramadharma has been described by Dietmar Rothermund as the Indian societal system that "regulates the duty (dharma) of every man according to his caste (varna) and age-grade (ashrama)".[20]


  1. ^ Jill Sperandio (11 December 2018). Pioneering Education for Girls across the Globe: Advocates and Entrepreneurs, 1742-1910. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-4985-2488-9.
  2. ^ a b O'Hanlon (2002), pp. 105–106
  3. ^ a b c Keer (1974), pp. 1–3
  4. ^ Rowena Robinson; Joseph Marianus Kujur (17 August 2010). Margins of Faith: Dalit and Tribal Christianity in India. SAGE Publishing India. ISBN 978-93-86042-93-4.
  5. ^ O'Hanlon (2002), p. 110
  6. ^ O'Hanlon (2002), p. 105
  7. ^ Phule, Jotirao (1991). Selections: Collected Works of Mahatma Jotirao Phule Vol II. Mumbai: Government of Maharashtra. pp. xv.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ Phule, Jotirao (1991). Selections: Collected Works of Mahatma Jotirao Phule Vol II. Mumbai: Government of Maharashtra. pp. xvi.[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ https://harinarke.blogspot.com/2020/04/blog-post_10.html
  10. ^ O'Hanlon (2002), pp. 110–113
  11. ^ O'Hanlon, Rosalind (2002). Caste, Conflict and Ideology: Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Low Caste Protest in Nineteenth-Century Western India (Revised ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 118. ISBN 978-0-521-52308-0.
  12. ^ Rajmohan Gandhi (6 November 2009). A Tale of Two Revolts. Penguin Books Limited. p. 111. ISBN 978-81-8475-825-2.
  13. ^ Mohan, Siddhant (7 April 2017). "Remembering Fatima Sheikh, the first Muslim teacher who laid the foundation of Dalit-Muslim unity". Two Circles.
  14. ^ Sabyasachi Bhattacharya (2002). Education and the Disprivileged: Nineteenth and Twentieth Century India. Orient Blackswan. pp. 35–37. ISBN 978-81-250-2192-6.
  15. ^ Bhattacharya, Sabyasachi; Zelliot, Eleanor (author) (2002). Education and the disprivileged : nineteenth and twentieth century India (1. publ. ed.). Hyderabad: Orient Longman. pp. 35–37. ISBN 9788125021926.
  16. ^ a b c O'Hanlon (2002), p. 135
  17. ^ a b Figueira (2012), p. 147
  18. ^ ANI (11 April 2017). "PM Modi pays tributes to Mahatma Phule on his birth anniversary". Business Standard India. Retrieved 5 April 2020.
  19. ^ Figueira (2012), pp. 147–148
  20. ^ Rothermund, Dietmar (1968). "Emancipation or Re-integration". In Low, D. A. (ed.). Soundings in Modern South Asian History. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. p. 132.
  21. ^ Doctor, Adi H. (1994). "Missionary Teachings and Social Reformers in 19th Century India". In de Souza, Teotonio R. (ed.). Discoveries, Missionary Expansion and Asian Cultures. Concept Publishing. pp. 110–111. ISBN 978-8-17022-497-6.
  22. ^ Foole, Mahatma Jyatorao (2007). Gulamgiri (in Hindi). Gautam Book Center. p. 7. ISBN 978-8-18773-373-7.
  23. ^ Omvedt, Gail (2011). Understanding Caste: From Buddha to Ambedkar and Beyond. Orient Blackswan. p. 62. ISBN 978-81-250-4175-7.
  24. ^ Sharad Pawar, the Making of a Modern Maratha By P. K. Ravindranath
  25. ^ O'Hanlon (2002), p. 147-149
  26. ^ Figueira (2012), p. 149
  27. ^ Nisar, M.; Kandasamy, Meena (2007). Ayyankali — Dalit Leader of Organic Protest. Other Books. p. 8. ISBN 978-8-19038-876-4.
  28. ^ "Mahatma Jyotirao Phule: Reformer Far Ahead of his Time". Hindustan Times. 4 September 2019. Retrieved 5 April 2020.
  29. ^ a b Bhadru, G. (2002). "Contribution of Shatyashodhak Samaj to the Low Caste Protest Movement in 19th Century". Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. 63: 845–854. JSTOR 44158153.
  30. ^ a b "Life & Work of Mahatma Jotira". University of Pune. Archived from the original on 11 March 2009.
  31. ^ Charlesworth, Neil (2002). Peasants and Imperial Rule: Agriculture and Agrarian Society in the Bombay Presidency 1850–1935 (Revised ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 277. ISBN 978-0-52152-640-1.
  32. ^ Keer (1974), p. 172
  33. ^ Gavaskar, Mahesh (1999). "Phule's critique of Brahmin power". In Michael, S. M. (ed.). Untouchable: Dalits in Modern India. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner. p. 45. ISBN 978-155587-697-5.
  34. ^ Kale, Govind Ganapat. "Snapshots from Mahatma Jotirao Phule's life, through the eyes of his close aide". www.thenewsminute.com. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  35. ^ Bhadru, G. (2002). "CONTRIBUTION OF SHATYASHODHAK SAMAJ TO THE LOW CASTE PROTEST MOVEMENT IN 19TH CENTURY". Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. 63: 845–854. JSTOR 44158153.
  36. ^ Keer (1974), p. 143
  37. ^ Thakkar, Usha (Editor); Kamala Ganesh, Kamala (Editor); Bhagwat, Vidyut (Author) (2005). Culture and the making of identity in contemporary India. New Delhi: Sage Publications. p. 169. ISBN 9780761933816.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  38. ^ Keer (1974), p. 247
  39. ^ O'Hanlon (1992), p. 107
  40. ^ Sarkar (1975), pp. 32–33, 40
  41. ^ Teltumbde, Anand; Yengde, Suraj (2 November 2018). "The Radical in Ambedkar: Critical Reflections". Penguin Random House India Private Limited. Retrieved 24 April 2019 – via Google Books.
  42. ^ "The Greatness of Mahatma Jotiba Phule". 11 April 2015. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  43. ^ "मेरा जीवन तीन गुरुओं और तीन उपास्यों से बना है- बाबासाहब डॉ बीआर अम्बेडकर". Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  44. ^ "Life As Message". Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 24. 16 June 2012.


Further reading[edit]

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